13 Common Rottweiler Health Issues and how to address them

Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM

rottweiler with branch in the mouth

Learning about the common health issues that may affect your Rottweiler pup is the best way to protect him.

In most conditions, early diagnosis by owners will guarantee a better prognosis with less radical treatment. 

The most common Rottweiler health issues are related to their bones. Examples include hip dysplasia, osteochondritis dissecans, and osteosarcoma. Viral infections are also common, particularly parvovirus. Additionally, senior Rottweilers may have eye problems like entropion and retinal atrophy.

In this post, I’ll give you a detailed description of all the common Rottweiler health issues. As a licensed veterinary doctor, I’ll explain how each disease develops, what are the symptoms you should look for, and how your vet will likely treat the condition. 

Top Rottweiler Health Issues


Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD)

Hip dysplasia occurs when the hips grow faster than the thigh bones, leading to loose hip joints.

When left untreated, that looseness may cause more severe conditions like degenerative joint disease (DJD).

Generally speaking, hip dysplasia is a genetic disease.

Still, the risk may increase dramatically with overfeeding and too much or too little exercise. 

Contrary to common belief, hip dysplasia may not be painful for your dog.

Studies show that over three-quarters of dogs may live with deformed hips for many years without showing any symptoms.

Symptoms

Some Rottweilers may start showing hip dysplasia symptoms beginning from four months of age, but it’s more common in senior dogs. 

X rays

If you notice one or more of the following symptoms, it’s better to visit your vet promptly since the condition may worsen with time:

  • Decreased activity
  • Aversion to jumping, running, or climbing stairs
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Lameness or limping 
  • Bunny-hopping gait
  • Joint looseness
  • Narrow stance
  • Grating in the joint (crepitus), especially during movement
  • Thigh atrophy
  • Shoulder hypertrophy
  • Dislocation of the hip joint

Diagnosis and Treatment

Veterinarians usually diagnose hip dysplasia by manipulating the hind legs to see if there’s any looseness, grating, or pain.

If your vet notices anything abnormal, they’ll request a hip x-ray and a blood test to reach a definitive diagnosis. 

In mild cases, weight monitoring and diet supplementation will alleviate most of the symptoms.

If the pain persists, your vet may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). 

If all else fails, your vet may suggest performing surgical intervention to reshape the joint or replace it with prosthetic implants. 

Upon proper treatment, your Rottweiler will lead a healthy life with few to no symptoms.

Again, early diagnosis is critical, so talk to your vet if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned earlier. 

Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)

Normally, your dog’s long bones have a smooth cartilage surface lining both ends.

With time, that cartilage grows and transforms into hard bone, which is how your pup grows taller. 

In large breeds, like Rottweilers, these cartilaginous surfaces may grow so rapidly that they may cut the surrounding blood vessels. 

With no nourishment, the cartilage will get cracked and inflamed. At this point, your dog’s condition will be called osteochondritis or OD.

If the cracks are left to merge, the cartilage may flake off and float freely within the joint space, causing inflammation and pain.

Veterinarians call this condition osteochondritis dissecans or OCD. 

Although OCD typically affects the shoulders, it can also happen in elbows, hips, or knees. Causes include overfeeding, excessive exercise, and genetic predisposition.

rottweiler on the sand

Symptoms

Osteochondritis dissecans often develop between 6 and 9 months of age, with male dogs being at a higher risk.

Talk to your vet if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Lameness that worsens after exercise
  • Stiffness in the joint after resting
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Difficulty bearing weight on the affected limb
  • Joint clicking
  • Joint swelling 
  • Pain and tenderness to touch
  • Muscle atrophy

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis often begins by physically examining the affected joint.

Afterward, your vet will order x-ray and MRI scans to identify the underlying cause. 

Keep in mind that your vet might request scans for all the joints, including the ones showing no symptoms.

This preemptive approach is crucial because OCD usually takes time before manifesting symptoms.  

If the diagnosis is confirmed, your vet will prescribe supplements to promote joint health and NSAIDs to relieve the pain.

If the joints are just cracked, the pain will subside completely with medications and physical therapy. 

However, if the cartilage has already flaked off, your vet will have to perform corrective surgery, either by opening the joints or using an arthroscope.

VETERINARIAN

Subaortic Stenosis (SAS)

A dog’s heart pumps out the blood through a large artery that’s called the aorta.

In subaortic stenosis, the area underneath the aortic valve narrows, forcing the heart to work harder to maintain a healthy blood supply to the rest of the body.

Luckily, if the narrowing is mild, the heart will eventually adapt to the higher workload, and no symptoms will appear. 

Most veterinarians believe that the narrowing happens due to thick fibrous nodules or rings, which mostly form due to a genetic disorder. 

Although these fibrous malformations usually grow beneath the aorta, they can also develop at two other locations:

  • Inside the aortic valve, which is known as valvular aortic stenosis (VAS)
  • Above the aortic valve, which is known as supravalvular aortic stenosis (SVAS)

The stricture’s location generally doesn’t lead to different symptoms, but it may force your vet to choose a specific treatment.  

Symptoms

In mild cases, your Rottweiler will lead a happy life without showing any symptoms.

In moderate or severe cases, the following symptoms may appear starting from birth and up to your pup’s first birthday:

  • Continuous fatigue or lack of energy
  • Weakness following exercise or excitement
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing and difficulty breathing (in severe cases only)

If you notice that your pup isn’t as playful as he should be, it’s better to consult your vet as soon as you can.

Chronic SAS can increase the risk of lung failure and, ultimately, heart attacks. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis starts with a physical examination. Your vet will use a stethoscope to listen to irregular heartbeats. 

If SAS is suspected, your vet will ask for: 

  • Chest x-ray: Used to look for any bulges that may have resulted due to the stricture
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): Will show any abnormalities in the heart’s electrical activity
  • Echocardiogram: An ultrasound image that’s used to locate the exact stricture position

When it comes to treatment, moderate and severe cases will need medications that regulate the heart rate.

In contrast, mild cases will need nothing but continuous monitoring.

In extreme conditions, your vet may perform surgery to remove the fibrous malformations. 

rottweiler laid down

Osteosarcoma (OSA)

Osteosarcoma is aggressive cancer that appears as abnormal bulges in the front legs, usually close to the shoulders, wrists, and knees. 

Like most malignant cancers, the tumor cells can spread to other parts of the body, including mammary glands, spleen, liver, and kidneys.

Studies show that around 12% of Rottweilers may develop osteosarcoma by eight years of age. 

Sadly, OSA doesn’t have a favorable prognosis. If the condition isn’t treated, most pups won’t make it past two months.

After chemotherapy and leg amputation, most dogs live for only one year after the surgery. 

Symptoms

Since osteosarcoma starts deep within the bone, it may not show any painful symptoms until it causes sizable destruction. 

It’s crucial to contact your vet as soon as you notice any of these symptoms — the quicker you act, the better the prognosis:

  • Limping
  • A painful, hot, hard swelling
  • A sudden leg fracture
  • Fever
  • Lumps elsewhere on the body (a sign of tumor spread)
  • Loss of appetite

Diagnosis and Treatment

If your dog is just suffering from lameness, your vet will carry out a physical exam and request an x-ray to determine the cause.

Then, a biopsy will be needed to identify the nature of the tumor cells. 

If osteosarcoma is confirmed, your vet will ask for chest X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, blood tests, and a urinalysis.

These tests will show whether cancer has spread to other tissues or not. 

Owing to the aggressive nature of osteosarcoma, most vets treat it with chemotherapy and limb amputation.

Although this might seem unsettling for some owners, most dogs can lead a happy life with only three legs. 

If the tumor has grown in more than one leg, your vet may perform a series of surgeries to remove the tumor masses and replace them with bone grafts.

They’ll also prescribe pain medications and nutritional supplements to make up for the loss of appetite.

Parvovirus

Parvovirus

Parvovirus, or parvo, in short, is a highly contagious virus that targets the rapidly dividing cells in the dog’s body, particularly those of the intestinal tract and bone marrow.

With time, that destruction impairs the dog’s immunity and digestion. 

Luckily, there’s a vaccine that can fully protect your puppy against parvo.

However, if he came in contact with an infected dog before completing the vaccine series, he’ll likely become ill.

Infection can also happen indirectly via sniffing infected feces. 

Since parvo only attacks unvaccinated dogs, it’s prevalent among pups younger than six months of age.

Symptoms

  • Bloody diarrhea 
  • Vomiting
  • Reduced appetite
  • Depleted energy
  • High fever 
  • Bloating
  • Weight loss

Diagnosis and Treatment

If your vet suspects parvo, they’ll suggest doing a fecal ELISA test.

This test searches for viral antigens in a fecal swap.

A positive result will mean that your dog has parvo, but a negative result isn’t as conclusive — the virus takes up to five days to be shed in feces. 

So, if you do the test in that period, you’ll get a false negative result.

Your vet may also request PCR and blood tests to reach an accurate diagnosis. 

Although there’s a vaccine for parvo, there’s no cure. Your vet will likely recommend hospitalization to offer excellent supportive care. 

Entropion

Entropion happens when an eyelid rolls inward, forcing the eyelashes to rub against the eyes.

That chronic irritation may lead to ulceration, perforation, or pigment formation, all of which will affect your pup’s vision. 

Most veterinarians believe that entropion happens due to a genetic disorder.

The risk increases with age as your dog’s skin becomes too saggy to stay in the normal position.

Of course, eyelid injuries and surgeries will spike up the risk significantly. 

Dogs eyes

Symptoms

  • Red, weepy eyes
  • Squinting
  • Eye discharge
  • Apparent swelling around eyes
  • Repetitive rubbing at eyes 
  • Excessive blinking
  • Recurring conjunctivitis (inflammation of the outer lining of the eye)
  • Eye ulcers

You should contact your vet as soon as you notice that your puppy’s eyes are turning red.

Waiting longer will increase the risk of developing ulcers, which may leave permanent scars. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet may diagnose entropion even before it shows any apparent symptoms by merely examining the eyelids.

So, make sure to visit your vet for regular check-ups at least once a year. 

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, your vet may perform a fluorescein stain test to inspect ulcers and abrasions.

That test starts by dropping a fluorescent dye into the eyes and then rinsing them with saline.

If the eyes have any cracks or ulcers, the vet will see colored streaks and patches.

The treatment starts with antibiotics and artificial tear lubricants to heal the lining of the eyes. If the case is mild, these medications will likely be enough.

If the eyelids are rolled too far inwards, your vet may suggest performing a blepharoplasty, which is the medical term for eyelid plastic surgery. 

Constant follow-ups are crucial because some Rottweilers may develop ectropion as a negative side effect of the surgery.

As you might’ve already guessed, ectropion is the exact opposite of entropion — it describes droopy eyelids that roll outwards, leaving the eyes prone to dryness and irritation. 

Retinal Dysplasia

If you’re unfamiliar, the retina is the rearmost part of your dog’s eyes.

It houses thousands of receptors that transform the visual data into electrical signals that the brain can interpret. 

Rottweiler's face

Some Rottweilers may lack the genes necessary for healthy retinal development, and of course, the clinical symptoms vary according to the missing genes.

Retinal dysplasia is an umbrella term that describes any abnormal growth in the retina.

Symptoms

The most common type of retinal dysplasia in Rottweilers is called multifocal retinal dysplasia.

In this form, the retina will have defective receptors grouped in streaks, dots, or circles, which cause varying degrees of visual impairment.

In mild cases, the vision will be relatively normal with nothing but small blind spots. 

The more aggressive form is known as total retinal dysplasia, which describes a completely detached retina.

Surely, Rottweilers suffering from this condition will be completely blind.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet can diagnose retinal dysplasia by using an ophthalmoscope.

Your dog should be older than 12–16 months for the retina to be mature enough for a correct diagnosis.

Sadly, retinal dysplasia has no cure. However, once the retina matures, the symptoms won’t progress any further. 

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

As I said earlier, the retina is the innermost part of your dog’s eyes, containing all the receptors necessary for vision.

In progressive retinal atrophy, these receptors start to deteriorate with time, leading to a gradual vision loss. 

Rottweilers can have two forms of PRA: 

  • Generalized progressive retinal atrophy (GPRA): In this form, all the retinal receptors are subject to destruction. It’s the most common type, and it usually starts manifesting in the last three years of age. 
  • Central progressive retinal atrophy (CPRA): Only the central receptors are damaged in this form. With time, the dog loses his ability to see in low light, but the general vision will remain reasonably sharp. 

Symptoms

  • Difficulty seeing at night 
  • Difficulty following hand commands
  • Repetitive bumping into walls and furniture
  • Reluctance to go down the stairs 
  • Formation of cataracts 

Keep in mind that this condition worsens with time, so you have to contact your vet as soon as you spot any of the previous symptoms.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet may be able to diagnose PRA by a simple ophthalmic examination that evaluates light responses.

However, for a definitive diagnosis, you may need to visit a veterinary ophthalmologist who can perform an electroretinogram (ERG) — this is a test that precisely measures the retina’s electrical activity. 

Until now, PRA has no cure. Some vets may prescribe antioxidant supplements or vitamins to prevent further complications, but there’s no scientific evidence proving these medications’ efficacy. 

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV)

After a large meal, your Rottweiler’s stomach will normally dilate to accommodate the food and the released gas.

Rottweiler licking the hand of a person

If the meal was larger than usual, the stomach might twist upon itself, resulting in complete or partial blockage.

That condition is called gastric dilatation-volvulus, or GDV in short. 

GDV is a life-threatening condition. Within a few hours, the twisted stomach will have cut its blood supply, plus that of the spleen.

Also, the stomach may push the diaphragm upwards, which will prevent the lungs from expanding to the full size.  

Until now, no one knows why GDV happens, but we have some risk factors to blame.

The most dangerous risk factor is rapid eating, especially when followed by vigorous exercise.  

Symptoms

The initial stages of GDV will manifest as abdominal pain. Your dog may: 

  • Have a swollen abdomen 
  • Act restless
  • Drool
  • Look anxious
  • Look at his stomach
  • Try to vomit 
  • Try to stretch to relieve the pressure

With time, more severe symptoms will appear, including: 

  • Pale gums
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Whining
  • Fainting

Diagnosis and Treatment

As soon as your vet notices the swollen abdomen, their priority will be relieving the pressure, even before confirming that your dog has GDV. 

The process starts by inserting a tube down your dog’s throat to help release some of the bent-up gases.

If the stomach is already twisted, that tube may not gain access to the stomach.

In that case, your vet may insert a large needle (called trocar) through your dog’s belly to gain external access to the stomach. 

After managing the emergency, your vet will take an x-ray to see if the stomach is twisted.

If so, they’ll perform a surgical procedure to revert it into the normal position.

They’ll also remove any dead tissues surrounding the stomach wall, and they’ll prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection. 

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)

Rottweilers suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy have weakened hearts that can’t pump the blood as efficiently as they should. 

rottweiler laid down

As the muscles become weaker, the heart’s walls get thinner.

As a result, the blood enlarges the heart much like air distends a thin balloon — and that’s why the condition is known as dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM in short. 

Until now, most veterinarians believe that DCM is a genetic condition.

However, recent evidence suggests that diet may also increase the risk

Symptoms

Initial signs of DCM include:

  • Exercise intolerance
  • Feet may become noticeably colder than the rest of the body
  • Coughing
  • Enlarged abdomen 
  • Decreased appetite
  • Difficulty breathing

As the disease becomes more severe, you may notice: 

  • Heavy, rapid breathing
  • Bluish tongue
  • Collapse 

Contact your vet as soon as you notice any of the previous symptoms since they’re considered an emergency. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet may reach the initial diagnosis by listening to the heart with a stethoscope.

However, to get a definitive diagnosis, they’ll need a chest x-ray, electrocardiogram (ECG), and echocardiogram. 

As for the treatment, nothing can solve the root cause since we can’t strengthen the heart.

However, your vet will give several medications to: 

  • Remove excess fluid from the body
  • Lower the blood pressure 
  • Dilate the blood vessels 
  • Control the heart rate 

Panosteitis

Panosteitis, aka pano, is a painful inflammatory condition that affects the bones of Rottweiler’s legs.

It usually starts in one leg, then moves around from one leg to another. 

Pano commonly affects growing puppies — that’s why it’s usually known as growing pains.

rottweiler puppy laid down

The good news is, the inflammation typically lasts for 2–3 months and then resolves on its own, leaving few to no permanent complications. 

Scientists are still arguing about the cause of pano. Yet, most people believe it’s a genetic condition that worsens with stress and poor diet. 

Symptoms

  • Sudden lameness in one or more legs
  • Legs will be painful to touch
  • Fever
  • Reduced energy
  • Reluctance to play and exercise 
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet can diagnose panosteitis with physical examination and x-ray scans.

Keep in mind that x-rays may not show any problems for up to ten days after the symptoms appear. So, constant follow-ups may be needed. 

As I said earlier, panosteitis resolves entirely on its own.

That said, your vet will likely prescribe some medications to relieve the pain and decrease the inflammation. 

During the lameness episodes, it’s crucial to provide your pup with adequate rest.

When the episode wraps up, ask your vet to recommend moderate to low-impact exercises to keep your dog entertained. 

Folliculitis

Folliculitis is a skin condition that happens when bacteria or fungi invade the tiny hair follicles (openings through which hair grows). 

This condition typically starts as red bumps that look relatively similar to acne.

The usual positions include armpits, groin, and abdomen.

With time, those bumps will enlarge and fill up with pus. The surrounding area may lose some of its hair, and you may even notice some dark spots scattered close by. 

Folliculitis can happen to any dog if he comes in contact with Staph bacteria or parasitic fungi.

The risk will be significantly higher if your dog has other viral or fungal infections or if he recently suffered physical trauma. 

Symptoms

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Itching and pain to touch
  • Hair loss 
  • Pigmented spots 

If you have other pets in your home, make sure to isolate the infected dog and take him to your vet as soon as you can.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Like most skin conditions, it can be difficult for your vet to diagnose folliculitis with physical examination alone.

They may request things like: 

  • Skin scraping 
  • Fungal and bacterial culture
  • Skin biopsy

Your vet will start the treatment by prescribing topical creams, ointments, and shampoos that contain antibiotic and antifungal medications.

ANTIFUNGAL DOCS CREAM

In severe conditions, your dog may also need oral medications and supportive treatment. 

Hypothyroidism

Your dog’s thyroid gland is responsible for producing a hormone that maintains a healthy metabolism. 

If the gland becomes inactive due to a genetic condition, auto-immune problem, or a tumor, the resulting hormonal deficiency will slow down the metabolic rate.

That condition is known as hypothyroidism. 

Virtually any breed can get hypothyroidism, but the risk increases in large breeds, and especially in dogs between 4 and 10 years of age. 

Scientists believe neutering and spaying may increase the risk, which is probably secondary to the general hormonal imbalance. 

Symptoms

The first symptom of the sluggish metabolism is sudden, unexplained weight gain.

Other symptoms include: 

  • Reduced energy
  • Cold intolerance (your dog gets cold quickly)
  • Excessive shedding
  • Skin dark pigmentation
  • Slow heart rate
  • Thickening of the facial skin
  • Lameness
  • Dragging of feet
  • Head tilt

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet will request a blood test to evaluate the levels of thyroid hormones circulating in the body.

They’ll also need more tests to determine the underlying cause behind that condition. 

Luckily, hypothyroidism is treatable, but it’s not readily curable.

Your vet will prescribe medications containing synthetic thyroid hormone, and they’ll request frequent follow-ups to make sure the dosing is correct. 

THYROID MEDS

Final Words

If this list has left you wary of getting a Rottie pup, then you’ll be happy to know that Rottweilers are among the healthiest breeds.

Most of the mentioned health issues are common for all large breeds, not just Rottweilers. 

Make sure to find a breeder that can provide valid health clearances.

This way, you can guarantee that your puppy has been tested for the most common health issues, particularly genetic ones. 

rottweiler in a garden

Sources

  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Hip Hip Hooray: Solutions for Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
  • American College of Veterinary Surgeons: Canine Hip Dysplasia 
  • American Kennel Club: Hip Dysplasia In Dogs: Prevention, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment
  • American College of Veterinary Surgeons: Osteochondrosis of the Shoulder
  • VCA Hospitals: Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) in Dogs
  • Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Aortic/Subaortic Stenosis
  • Colorado State University Flint Animal Cancer Center: Bone Cancer in Dogs
  • Universities Federation for Animals Welfare: Rottweiler – Osteosarcoma
  • ACVO: Entropion
  • The Spruce Pets: How to Spot and Treat Eyelid Entropion in Dogs
  • BVA: Hereditary Eye Disease in Dogs
  • The Spruce Pets: How to Identify and Treat Progressive Retinal Atrophy in Dogs
  • American College of Veterinary Surgeons: Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus
  • WebMD: Dog Bloat (Gastric Dilatation Volvulus): Symptoms, Causes, Treatments
  • American Kennel Club: What Every Owner Should Know About Parvo in Dogs
  • Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Canine Parvovirus
  • Washington State University: Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs
  • Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)
  • PetMD: Bone Inflammation (Panosteitis) in Dogs
  • The Spruce Pets: How to Treat Folliculitis in Dogs
  • WebMD: Hypothyroidism in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatment

Read more about the Rottweiler on my one-page breed guide

Marcelle Landestoy

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